Lessons in Sustainability: When Your “Green” Changes are Less Than Eco-Friendly

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Sustainability, green living, healthy choices, safer products – it’s all a learning curve – and a curve with “curve balls” at that. Just when you think you are doing something right you find out it’s actually kinda wrong. Just this week Consumer Reports proposed putting a ban on the word “natural” on food labels – because it is completely meaningless!

It’s frustrating for sure – but the important thing is to not give up!

Remember that perfect is unattainable but better is always possible!

With that said, here are a few things I have learned on my journey to a greener, healthier family.

1. Biodegradable Dog Waste Bags are kinda bullshit. Biodegradable plastics certainly have their merits – they are free of petroleum, often made from renewable resources, and don’t litter the ocean or clog landfills. However, when biodegradable plastics get to the landfill, microbes break them down and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  Some landfills have systems that capture the methane and use it for energy, but most landfills don’t.

Overall, if you need to buy plastic, biodegradable is probably better, especially if you have access to a composting facility. But, unless you have a very specialized facility, you can not compost dog waste. So buying biodegradable dog bags is simply wasteful when you can simply reuse all the plastic bags you inevitably connect through unavoidable packaging – bread bags, cereal bags, packing bags, newspaper bags, used ziplocs – whatever. As green as you may be, you have plastic bags that will not successfully transition into the curbside recycling stream. You CAN collect them and recycle them at many grocery stores. But you probably won’t. So at least repurpose them to clean the crap off the street.

Some ubiquitous plastic packaging
Some ubiquitous plastic packaging

2. BPA-free is also kinda bullshit Oh, don’t get me wrong – BPA is some nasty, hormone-disrupting stuff and we don’t want it in our cans, baby bottles, or containers. But with all these supposedly “safer plastics” on the market, we simply don’t know what the BPA is being replaced with – or if it is actually worse. My babies both used Avent and Born Free BPA-free plastic bottles so it’s always fun to learn they were actually leaking their own special brand of synthetic estrogen. And all those BPA-free cans? The notoriously bad plastic PVC is an FDA-approved alternative for BPA in can linings, despite the fact that vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen. So basically, plastic is guilty until proven innocent and it’s best to avoid it when you can. And I say this while my one-year-old refuses to accept any fancy aluminum or glass sippy cup and will only use the plastic ones available at CVS. But we are trying. Pyrex is queen for all food preservation (as are old pickle jars). Bento boxes are great for snacks. I’ve found great sauce-making organic tomatoes in glass jars. It’s just the damn cans of Elmo soup. Why does my kid love this Elmo soup so much?

p.s. Another lesson: Don’t throw receipts into recycling. That’s how we get BPA in recycled toilet paper. That said, I still choose recycled toilet paper over virgin.

At least it’s organic.

3. Vegan Leather and Fake Fur are Not Eco-Friendly Wearing fur and leather often supports animal cruelty. I’m no vegan, but I have no interest in supporting shady animal practices. In a perfect world, any animal fabrics would come from a humanely raised and killed animal that has had every part of its body put to use, from the meat to the bones. We all know that is not how you got those boots. But sometimes the substitutes can be just as bad.  Most fake leathers are made of some kind of plastic product—which was almost certainly derived from petroleum. Some faux leathers are even made of PVC, a product that contains, among other chemicals, phthalates.Haven’t you ever noticed that pleather smell?

I’m not sure why you are wearing fur of any kind, unless you are Lil’ Kim, but fake fur is made of synthetic fibers constructed from blends of acrylic and modacrylic polymers derived from coal, air, water, petroleum and limestone. Like most plastics, fake fur also doesn’t biodegrade easily. My solution? Try to buy from truly sustainable – and made in the USA if possible – brands. And if you need that leather jacket, shop secondhand.

Here is a leather jacket I bought in 1997, available for purchase on Poshmark.
Here is a leather jacket I bought in 1997, available for purchase on Poshmark.

Did you find that any of your own green changes were counterintuitive? What are your lessons learned?


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